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Birds in Fall: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, March 13, 2007

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Paperback, Bargain Price, March 13, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This brooding novel is a modern-day retelling of the Greek myth of Ceyx and Alcyone. In the eerie first chapter, Russell, a New York ornithologist, is on a flight to Amsterdam when the airplane plunges into the Atlantic near Nova Scotia. The victims' family members, including Russell's wife, Ana, gather near the site on Trachis Island to wait for word from search crews. Their host is Kevin, an innkeeper who witnessed the crash and occupies himself making the anxious guests comfortable. There, the disparate group, a global mix of parents, siblings, spouses and aunts and uncles, begins the difficult work of dealing with the tragedy, with Ana's story at the center, while Kevin, distracted by his duties, grows apart from his partner, Douglas. The protagonists are sympathetic and complex and Kessler, a journalist, children's book writer and novelist (Lick Creek), writes with lyricism, but also with studied seriousness. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Strangers clasp hands as their airplane falls through the dark into the sea off the coast of a small Nova Scotia island. A sweet-natured innkeeper witnesses the crash and braces for the arrival of the victims' families. Many lives are about to be irrevocably altered. Ana, an ornithologist studying bird migration whose ornithologist husband was on the plane, finds refuge at the inn along with a Bulgarian pianist who lost his cellist wife, an Iranian exile who lost his niece, a Taiwanese couple who lost their daughter, and a now-orphaned Dutch teenager. Kessler's entrancingly beautiful and psychologically incisive second novel, following his tale about a mining disaster, Lick Creek (2001), is an exquisitely empathic and poetically acute study in grief and survival. As the mourners numbly accept Kevin's sensitive hospitality, contemplate the implacable ocean, forge bonds, and even fall in love, Kessler discerns in the astonishing determination of migrating birds proof of life's continuity, and subtly explores our species' ability to find solace in myth. "How is a story like a bird?" Kessler asks. "It keeps us aloft." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743287398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743287395
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,159,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brad Kessler's novel Birds in Fall won the 2006 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was named by the Los Angeles Times one of the top ten books of the year. He is the author of another novel, Lick Creek, and his non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, The Nation, Kenyon Review, and Bomb. Kessler is the recipient of the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Whiting Writer's Award. He lives with his wife, the photographer Dona Ann McAdams, in Vermont, where they raise a small herd of dairy goats and produce cheese.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The novel starts inside the plane. Eighty minutes into the flight, just as the jet curves over the Gulf of Maine toward Nova Scotia and the moonlit Atlantic, a few passengers sense that something's wrong. The lights flicker. There's "a curious chemical smell, not exactly burning, more like a dashboard left to bake in the sun." The narrator, an ornithologist, babbles on about birds until his seat mate, a cellist, tells him to shut up. She knows what's coming; she writes her name --- in lipstick --- on her arm. The plane shudders, shakes, tumbles, explodes. And disappears into the sea.

A plane crash. No survivors. And the main character of the novel with the metaphor-drenched title is the ornithologist's wife, another ornithologist. Who then travels to an inn on Trachis Island, off Nova Scotia, to identify his remains, if any. Man-made birds. Birds in nature. Birds as mythic figures. So many birds you brace yourself for a novel so sensitive you're really not deep enough to read it.

"Birds in Fall" is a better book than that. Much better. Oh, it has its arch and learned references, but then, the passengers we briefly meet on that plane were accomplished professionals. And, more importantly, so are the surviving victims: their family members, whose lives we follow for five years. And so is Kevin Gearns, who --- with Douglas, his lover --- runs the inn where the widows, widowers, parents and others will gather.

There is a kind of book I loathe more than any other: a rural retreat, a gathering, late nights by moonlight, candles and campfires --- and a secret is revealed. This book draws on those elements, but it is not that book. For one thing, Kessler is a master of place and time. His inn is as real as my neighborhood.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary Elizabeth Thundercloud on August 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This little gem is by far the best fiction book I've read in some time. It is poetic, and gentle, and does not overwhlem the reader with useless information or filler; rather is beautifully crafted so that there are no wasted words or ideas. Kessler seems to have an insiders knowledge of pure, clear grief, and his characters' suffering is deeply accessible by the reader. He loves his characters and has created each of them with the most tender care. His writing about the sea and the natural landscape is just beautiful, and right on. I loved the book and cried when it was over.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David Barndollar on June 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
I just read this for a book club, and feel that most of the glowing reviews for it are greatly overblown. The prose is mostly quite lovely, and Kessler has created a fine assortment of characters whose responses to the trauma of losing loved ones in a plane crash are plausible enough. But good fiction requires more than realistic depictions of fictional characters and some nice prose. It requires a compelling *story* or *significance*, and in the end those are what this book lacks. The many classical analogies and musical references (e.g., the book is in 23 sections, to mirror Strauss's "Metamorphoses for 23 solo strings") utlimately have no payoff. So while it made me feel smart because I knew about the Ceyx/Alcyone myth and who the women of Trachis were and which Auden poem was being quoted, there didn't seem to be any narrative purpose for my knowing any of these things, since these allusions had no obvious resonance within the novel. Even as a trauma narrative, the book doesn't say very much about trauma; it simply depicts it. While it is an accomplishment to do so plausibly (hence the 3-star rating), I know plenty of trauma victims whose real-life stories I can hear if I want that sort of thing. A trauma novel needs to say something more about grief and healing than that they happen over time and in different ways for different people, which is pretty much all this book says about the matter.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Lowell on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A gem of a book. As a therapist who works with patients who have experienced loss, grief and trauma, I love the beautiful way that Kessler explores the ways we respond in the face of tragedy, the strength of the human capacity to overcome even the most terrible thing and to heal. Bravo. One of the best written books I've read in a long, long time.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on June 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Brad Kessler's novel begins with a disaster in the air when, like Icarus, a jet plane plunges into the sea somewhere up in the Maritimes. At a nearby B&B, a pair of gay guys are closing down for the winter, but they keep the place open to accommodate a growing swarm of relatives, people whose nearest and dearest have gone down to a watery death.

Kessler's book, like many hotel novels, brings together a critical mass of people from all walks of life, enough of a sample so that we seem to be experiencing humanity en masse in all its messy complexity. Kevin, the hotelier, throws himself into the work of mercy with a fierceness born of a desire to forget about mounting boyfriend problems, and indeed of a whole New York life decimated by the death of all of his friends to AIDS. Here in Trachis Harbor, he and Douglas are patronized and resented by the locals, but under the pressure of emergency all things change, and Douglas becomes more of a Maritimer than the Maritimers.

Kessler's particular focus is on Ana Gathreaux, a Manhattan bird scientist who has lost her husband. As Ana remembers meeting Russell, they were in a museum for dead birds, and "Russell told her one night in the empty halls of the museum, that if you listened carefully, you could hear all the dead birds in their display cases communing with each other. "What does it sound like? Ana asked. "Esperanto," he said. "Only for avifauna."

This turns out to be one of Russell's little jokes, but her sorrow is all-encompassing. There is also her opposite number, Pars Mansoor, an Iranian firebrand whose niece he hasn't seen for many years, since he's been in exile trying to lead a new life.
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